Innovative Applications Using Asterisk

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This was presented in Asterconference Roadshow Manila last February 2, 2007. It discusses the potential applications of the Asterisk Opensource VoIP PBX Platform.

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Innovative Applications Using Asterisk Open Source PBX
By: Mikhail Torres, Managing Director, EACOMM Corporation

Introduction
• Asterisk provides a unique and very powerful platform to enable converged applications.
– Asterisk is open source and runs on and is compatible with other Linux-based technologies. (i.e. PERL, PHP/MySQL, etc…) – Asterisk is IP-based, allowing easy integration to other Internet Technologies (i.e. RSS/XML, HTTP, SMTP, etc…) – Asterisk through the use of TDM cards, ATA’s or SIP Gateways, provides a ‘gateway’ for users to connect from their phones to the digital world of applications, databases and onward to the Internet.

Introduction
• Asterisk’s undisputable selling point is its customizability.
– W ith open standards and open source, only Asterisk offers UNLIMITED customization. – Even the most expensive most feature-rich VoIP Solution cannot claim this. – Not only is Asterisk customizable, it is relatively easy to use and learn. – Any person with a background in Linux and one or two programming Linux-compatible programming languages can learn to develop Asterisk applications in a few weeks.

• The key point is: Asterisk is much much more than a free PBX!!!

Development Tools
• The Dialplan – The essence of an Asterisk PBX is its dialplan. – A lot of creative programming can already be done by just using the basic dial plan commands. i.e. IVR applications. • The Asterisk Gateway Interface – AGI allows other scripting/programming languages to interact with Asterisk. – Typically used to interface with Databases and other external applications. – Compatible with most modern programming languages, although PHP/PERL/Python are more commonly used.

Development Tools
• The Asterisk RealTime Architecture
– Available in version 1.2 up, ARA allows more seamless access to SQL Databases. – Reduces instances where system requires reloading allowing for ‘realtime’ Asterisk configurations ‘on the fly’. – Asterisk configuration in a database makes it easier to integrate GUI applications for asterisk management

• Manager API
– The Asterisk Manager allows a client program to connect to an Asterisk instance and issue commands or read PBX events over a TCP/IP stream. – Provides a virtually unlimited possibility of applications that can be developed in any programming language to interact with Asterisk. – Examples would include: Predictive Dialers, Operator/Receptionist Control Panels, and much more….

EACOMM’s Asterisk Development Efforts
Completed Projects: • Hosted PBX Platform with complete set of PBX features managed by clients in real time. Includes all standard PBX functionality + optional call center applications (i.e. ACD/Predictive Dialer) • Calling Card/Pre-paid VoIP platform • SMS Gateway – Asterisk Integration • Various IVR Applications (Email, RSS, Recording, wakeup call, etc…) • Click-to-Call Applications Projects under development: • Web-based Softphone • Jabber/Googletalk/Skype-Asterisk Integrated platform

IVR Applications
• IVR or Interactive Voice Response allows users to interact with your phone system, providing a ‘User Interface’ to access PBX features, Internet data, and more… • The typical application is a redirection menu: i.e. “Press One to contact Sales, Press Two to contact Tech Support” – But with ASTERISK, you can develop much more than this.

IVR Applications
EMAIL

INTERNET
RSS FEEDS IVR Databases PAYMENT GATEWAYS

ASTERISK SERVER

IVR Applications
• Over the Phone Credit Card Verification/Phone Banking
• Application automatically records (or Agent accepts) relevant info such as name, address, etc… • Client punches in his credit card number, expiration date, etc… • Server connects to the Payment Gateway via Phone/Internet and confirms the data. • IVR confirms if card is validated successfully.

IVR Applications
• Recording Information for Transcription
• Client calls and enters a userid and pin supplied by transcription company • IVR forwards to a voicemail-type application and client records the information • Client can review, delete, overwrite, or submit his recording • Recording is stored in an online database and/or emailed to transcription company. • Alternately, Speech-to-text engine can be enable for automated transcription. (Technology still in infancy)

IVR Applications
• RSS News feeds Over the Phone
• User can select what type of information he wants to access over the phone via a web interface • User calls into IVR, selects either local news, weather, stock quotes, etc… • Asterisk Server extracts RSS data from the Internet and plays back to the user using Text-to-Speech Technology.

IVR Applications
• Email Over the Phone
• User Contacts the IVR and enters a userid and pin. • Asterisk downloads email data corresponding to entered userid • Text-to-Speech engine outputs the Email content to the user

IVR Applications
• Learning Applications
• IVR directs to either Lessons or Quizzes • Text-to-speech or pre-recorded messages play out the lesson or quiz question • User can answer quizzes by pressing the corresponding answers to question (i.e. for a Math Quiz) or presses the number corresponding to the correct choice (i.e. Multiple Choice/True or False Quiz)

IVR Applications
• Phone Surveys
• Agent calls the respondents and forwards them to the Survey IVR. • IVR plays out survey questions and users answer by typing the values on their handsets. • Answers are stored into a database

• Games?
• A perfect example of the power of Asterisk’s IVR module would be this adaptation of the popular Zork Text-based adventures of the early 80’s: http://uc.org/read/ZoIP

Asterisk integration with other applications
Skype

INTERNET
Extension 101

GoogleTalk
ASTERISK SERVER

Extension 102

Websites SMS Gateways

Extension 103

`

OUTLOOK/CRM Software

Asterisk integration with other applications
• Skype-to-Asterisk
– Enables Skype users to call into an Asterisk Server and vice versa – Can be achieved by utilizing Skype-enable ATA devices connected to a TDM Card with FXO Ports – Software solution also available such as what is provided by http://chanskype.com

• Googletalk-to-Asterisk
– With Asterisk Version 1.4, integration with GoogleTalk Instant messenger is now possible through Jingle and Jabber protocols.

Asterisk integration to other applications
• Asterisk-Outlook integration
– Allows users to select phone numbers from MS Outlook and dial out using the asterisk server. – Various open source and licensed solutions available: i.e. AstTAPI, Third Lane Outlook Dialer.

Asterisk integration to other applications
• SMS/Asterisk Integration
– Done by integrating an online SMS gateway to your Asterisk Server or by using a VoIP GSM Gateway – Example applications would be Voicemail notices via SMS, Server usage statistics via SMS, etc… – Online SMS gateways typically charge around Php 3.00 to send an SMS to any Country with a GSM network.

Asterisk integration to other applications
• Click-to-Call
– Highly touted as the ‘next stage’ of W eb Advertising – Users click on a website’s phone number and can automatically contact the website’s owners. – Google is currently running a test of this in its Adwords products – Easily done using Skype…but site visitor needs Skype installed. – Using purely Asterisk:
• Upon clicking a phone number in the website, a popup window opens and prompts the user for his/her phone number • Asterisk validates if calls are allowed from the country/location of the caller and if anyone is available to answer the call • If valid, Asterisk contacts the Call Agent AND the Caller via the entered phone number. • Website owner shoulders the caller’s call charges

Hardware Integration

Extension 101

INTERNET
Web
ASTERISK SERVER

Extension 102

Extension 103

Email SMS

Alarm Systems, Home Automation, Phone Alarms

Hardware Integration
• Bluetooth “follow me application” - Automatically diverts calls from Standard Extension to mobile phone using Bluetooth presence detection. • Use Asterisk as a PA-system - Dial an extension and access a PA system connected to the server’s sound card. • Connect a Door Phone to Asterisk and answer people knocking on your door from anywhere on earth.

Hardware Integration
• Attach traditional phone-based alarm systems to Asterisk to receive prompts via web/email/sms/phone • Home Automation – control home appliances/doors/etc via an IVR. i.e. call your asterisk server to turn on the airconditioning, turn on/off lights, lock/unlock doors, etc….

What the Future Holds
• Improved speech-to-text / text-tospeech • Improved Video Calling/Conferencing • Hi-Fi Voice Calls • Free calls to anywhere/anyone • Integration of Wi-Fi and Cellular technology • VoIP and nothing else

On-line Resources
• Nerdvittles.com
– Dozens of Asterisk/Trixbox related projects

• voip-info.org
– Probably the most comprehensive site about Asterisk – http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/view/Asterisk+bounty
• A list of Asterisk-related projects with corresponding rewards for those choosing to tackle them.

• www.asteriskdocs.org
– The ‘official’ manual on Asterisk – Best place to start learning Asterisk

THANK YOU

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